I have always wanted to restore an "old" car.
Back in the late '70's my uncle taught me to drive in his blue and white Morris Major Elite. I recall how easy it was to drive - four on the floor and very light steering.
My first car though was a 1960 Hillman Minx, a little bit trickier with the column shift, but very reliable. Even with a flat battery she would start first time with the crank!
I have never been very mechanically minded but I am always keen to learn new skills. A simple car was needed for my restoration.
My 16 year old daughter was ready to learn to drive and both cars at home are automatics, we needed a manual car.
The trading post seemed the right place to start and after several months of looking I bought the first Elite from a farm about an hour from Hobart. The engine was OK but the clutch master cylinder needed fixing, the diff was a bit noisy, the body needed a bit of cosmetic touching up, the speedo was stuck and there was a leak in the fuel tank. This was all good as I had a thirst for learning new skills. This car also came with it's passport to service (log), driver's handbook and original warranty. The car was transported back to Hobart where a mechanic friend could check it out more thoroughly between jobs.
I started looking on ebay to fill in time, and collected a few motoring magazines with articles on Majors. It started to become an obsession. I found it relatively easy to source parts, some from ebay and other internet sources and some from a local wrecker who has two Elites in his yard.
The mechanic found another Elite, exactly the same colour (driftwood/rose beige), but with a great body and duco only about 5 minutes from where I live. The owner was a bit of a hoarder - he had 6 cars and about 14 fridges in his backyard. This car had been under a red berry tree for about 10 years, after it's head gasket had failed. Birds in the tree above had covered the car in what had now become soil, and moss was growing from most cavities. It was a mess, but I could see that the car underneath was in a remarkable condition. The car had a sun visor and two Smiths panels of extra gauges as original accessories. The owner was sure that he had a spare head for the engine in one of his kitchen cupboards - it couldn't be found! We agreed on a price, but had to start and move about four cars to get this car on the trailer. Once on the trailer it appeared that the price had gone up. I wasn't prepared to be hood-winked so I threatened to dump the unregistered car on the road and go. Commonsense prevailed and I now had two Elites. The mechanics yard was getting crowded.
I found out about a Series II that someone had bought to cut the boot section out to make a sofa (with the wings as arm-rests). What they didn't want was going to the crusher the next morning. Very generously, the owner had dismantled the car before I arrived. All I had to do was load the four doors, bonnet, front and back glass, a spare diff and lots of knobs, nuts and bolts into my trailer. I was finding that the car restoration community are bighearted people.
I now had two cars and plenty of spare body panels.
Which one should I restore?
The 1st car had a noisy diff and needed a fair bit of body work and a respray.
The 2nd car needed the head fixed and until we got the engine going the condition of itís diff and gearbox were unknown. How much work was there in the engine? The duco and body were really good but the head gasket hadnít been replaced and there was a lot of rust through the block and a seized piston.
I decided to tackle the second car; if the engine wasnít repairable we could transplant the engine from the 1st car.
I wanted things to happen quickly, my mechanic friend was more patient. The seized piston took about 5 litres of RP-7 and about 3 weeks of slow jiggling to free. The head was sent for pressure testing and was deemed unrepairable. Luckily the local wrecker had a complete head and with a bit of cleaning it was simply a matter of switching the two (and I still had two complete cars).
A few things were needed to get the engine going. We needed a new set of rings and an upper engine gasket set. Jim Withers at JWClassicParts@aol.com is a fantastic source of BMC parts. Some parts I also obtained from NTG Motor Services in the UK.
Whilst the parts were on the way I kept searching the web and newspapers for Morris Major listings. A give away car appeared in trading post ad about 3 hours north of Hobart. No engine but plenty of other useful bits including a Lucas Driving Light (2LR700S), and two or three gearboxes The owner happened to be an old school friend of mine and would deliver the car to Hobart for me (for petrol money). Another example of the generosity I have encountered.
I now had three and a bit cars.
The interior of the chosen car needed to be tackled, and cleaned up really well with Poly Clean (diluted with water) usually used as a marine cleaner. The vinyl material used by BMC for the door trims and seat covering is pretty well bullet-proof . There was a tear in the drivers seat area where a spring had collapsed and the seams had parted. The front door-trims had speaker holes cut in them. I really wanted to replace the door trims with original material. The 1st car had a different interior colour scheme (brown/beige) compared to the two tone green on this car so I utilised the Classic Car Magazine free advertising service. Within a few days I had a response. Someone had seen two cars for sale, one was two tone green and restorable (the other a spare car) and would you believe they were only about 30 minutes away. The green car had a full set of the correct door trims and the spare car had a complete two tone green rear seat which would provide enough of the correct material to repair the torn front seat. A job I wanted to tackle after registration. The seller only wanted $100.00 for the two. (He had bought them for $20.00)
I now had five and a bit cars
The spare car was not restorable but I could salvage lots of parts and it came with a complete engine. I set about dismantling this car. Unfortunately the rest went to the crusher.Back to four and a bit cars.
My mechanic friend had the engine going now. We were getting close to being able to re-register the car. The diff, gearbox and brakes seemed good. The fuel gauge that previously didn't appear to work, now was alive (the float must have been jammed). Simple jobs like the rear vision mirror needed replacing so I had a glazier cut new mirror to size and bevel the edges (like the original). For seatbelts, the previous owner had used baby-capsule webbing held through to the back of the front seat with a piece of wood. This was removed. The exhaust was rusted out and needed replacing. A manifold-exhaust clamp was also needed and an interior light cover (sourced from Jim Withers). The windscreen washer tubing had perished (garden fittings matched perfectly).
The rear springs were sagging. I had a spare set from the donor car but when installed they were no better. A quote for re-tempering the springs was more than I had paid for the car so we improvised by adding an extra sleeve to each side. It worked fantastically.
After about 12 months the car was ready to drive to an inspection station.
She failed on four points:
The inspector noted the tear in the front seat. (I was going to fix that later and it wasn't a safety issue). So I had to fix it sooner.
The car didn't have seat belts. The inspector noted that there were mounting points. He was wrong. Seat belts were an accessory in 1962 and aren't required for registration in Tasmania. I will install in the future anyway.
The tie-rod end boot seal needed replacing. Ordered over internet.
There were minor cracks in two tyre walls. I had enough tyres to choose from to replace.
About 10 days later on the second attempt she passed, and I now have full registration (no log book entries needed).
As I was running out of storage space the other two complete cars will have homes with a couple of friends and we can share the one and a bit cars for parts (which I am sure we will need in future).
The original reason for restoration was to provide my daughter with a manual car to learn to drive. She now has a kia mentor automatic so now I can enjoy driving the Major while I continue the restoration.
This site was last updated 24-Sep-2008